Migration shapes culture, stirs conflict – theologian

Dr. HyeRan Kim-Cragg addressed theology students from across Canada May 4-5.


Dr. HyeRan Kim-Cragg addressed theology students from across Canada May 4-5.

May 13, 2013

Christian theology today must take into account realities such as the increase in global migration that result from the end of colonialism, says a Presbyterian theologian.

Dr. HyeRan Kim-Cragg said Christianity was complicit in the spread of colonialism, which imposed Christianity on nations in Asia, Africa and Latin American with violence.

Yet today, in those areas where Christianity was imposed, the faith is growing rapidly while in the former Western colonial nations Christianity is dying, she said.

Kim-Cragg, a theologian at St. Andrew's College, a United Church college at the University of Saskatchewan, spoke to the Canadian Theological Students Association which met in Edmonton May 4-5 at St. Joseph's College of the University of Alberta.

Migration is one of the largest factors currently shaping cultures across the world, she said.

For those inhabitants of nations that receive immigrants, migration calls for an adjustment to the influx of new cultures, she said. Migrants, however, face a cultural pressure to assimilate to their new culture.

This "contact zone" between people of different backgrounds can mean both inequality and conflict, said Kim-Cragg.

She related the story of a group of 12 Afro-American families who came to Eldon, Sask., near Maidstone, in 1910 and established their own church. For years, the group sought to gain access for their children to the regular school in the town, but eventually had to settle for a segregated school.


While the harsh climate discouraged other blacks from moving to the area, the main reason more did not migrate was racism, she said.

At the same time, various groups in Alberta organized petitions calling on the federal government to ban the immigration of blacks, Kim-Cragg said. The Laurier government even passed a bill that deemed Negroes to be unacceptable. Although it was never declared into law, "it helped stem the tide of black immigration."

Likewise, the Chinese who did dangerous work building the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the 1880s were not allowed to bring their families into Canada, she said. Later, the Canadian government placed a tax on Chinese immigrants to discourage their coming to the country.

Nevertheless, Canada's world view has been shaped by immigration, and it was the first country to declare itself to be a multicultural nation, she noted. Still, even today, there remains constant resistance to cultural integration.

Kim-Cragg said that in 2006, the general council of the United Church declared that it was an intercultural church.


Becoming an intercultural church, she said, is a call to transformation. It holds forth a vision of a church in which cultures are neither dependent nor independent, but rather interdependent.

Kim-Cragg noted that the Chinese character for "in-between" (gan) combines the characters for gate and for sun. It provides an image of an opening through which light shines.

Likewise, the character for "human being" combines the characters for person and for in-between. The character for person shows one line resting on another.

A person, then, is one who cannot stand alone, and a human being is a person in an interdependent relationship, she said.

A covenant is a relationship of our interdependence with others and with God. God is the wholly other being without whom we cannot live, she said.

A covenant, then, is a relationship of trust. "Your health, your well-being is at the mercy of the other who willingly receives you."